As the Democratic Party rebuilds after the 2016 election, a set of black-led political action committees has begun organizing as outside political groups, carving out their own lane for fundraising and their advocacy priorities — things black operatives say have been ignored by the major Democratic campaign committees.Yes, or get two parties showing an interest in those values and issues, but I digress. It's clear, though, that the old urban-blue collar-academic coalition isn't what it used to be. Perhaps running the condescending Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket concentrated some minds. But those minds might have to have been concentrated anyway.
By quickly moving to support black candidates, organize black donors, and lock into a tailored progressive agenda, though, the groups hope to create more leverage inside the party — akin to how EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and NARAL function.
“There's always been this longing for more support,” said Quentin James, a Democratic strategist behind one such group gaining traction, Collective PAC. “[The Democratic committees’] objective is not to elect black people to office. It’s to elect Democrats. We have to build independent power outside of any party that prioritizes our values and issues as a community, and to do that I think you have to consider that the DNC is not the sole vehicle to create that pathway and progress.”
These outside, splintered groups come at a challenging time for the party: The 2016 primary posed ideological and political questions about the party’s direction — how progressive its economic direction should be, what role money in politics should play, what kinds of candidates appeal to which kinds of voters — that remain unresolved. In the weeks after the election, media and some Democratic attention focused on white, working-class voters who voted for Donald Trump in once-Democratic strongholds like Wisconsin, and whether they should be the focus of new party efforts. That post-election emphasis irritated many black operatives; reduced black turnout in states like North Carolina and Michigan likely hurt Hillary Clinton, as well as the failure of the campaign to flip enough affluent white voters in states like Pennsylvania.That's the downside of building a political movement on identities: will the Republicans or Libertarians go after the affluent or will the White identity politics catch on more generally? Or will the Democrats reassure themselves that between Mr Trump's learning curve and the fractures among the libertarian, national security, and traditionalist Republicans there is another six or eight years of business as usual possible?
“For too long, the Democratic Party has told young people of color to take a seat at the table, sit down and shut up. That ends now,” [new party head Tom] Perez said in an email to BuzzFeed News. “We need to weave their ideas, their energy, and their leadership into everything we do as a party.”Playing to identity is difficult, as it can deteriorate into something that looks like punishing normals for being normal.
“We talk a lot about millennials and people of color being the future of our party, but frankly that future is now,” he said in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Across the country, young people of color are mobilizing to fight for Democratic values. Our job is to turn that energy into electoral success. And the only way we do that is by ensuring that our leadership reflects the communities we represent in every zip code.”
The tensions do have a generational component: The new groups’ ideology is derived, in many ways, from Black Lives Matter, whose politics, tactics, and decentralized movement confounded Democrats, including, at points, Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. Black Democrats in Washington support the groups, with leaders wary that Perez’s vision sound all too familiar saying they the DNC should engage them early and often instead of only a few weeks before an election.
(Not all Democrats, though: “The reality of it is what they’re doing ultimately is a good thing, and I applaud them,” said Jarvis Stewart, a veteran Washington-based communications strategist. “But I would simply caution that a tone that emphasizes race over a message about Democratic values alienates white voters they need to win, and it further plays into this notion of identity politics that the Democrats are trying to get away from.”)
But business as usual has rendered generations of Black and Latino inhabitants of Democrat-controlled territory. It's the way ward-heeler politicians always operate. And the clients of ward-heeler politicians sometimes figure out that they're being played.